A Project of the USS Constitution Museum

A Project of the USS Constitution Museum

National Education Standards

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A Sailor’s Life for Me was created as an interdisciplinary resource and as such, math, science, technology, English language arts, fine arts, and many other subjects are covered. If your district follows the Common Core Standards, this resource fits your needs. Check with your own state standards and our Search feature to see where else the two may intersect.

During the War of 1812, the USS Constitution had up to 480 men on her crew at any given time. These ordinary individuals from varied walks of life came together in extraordinary times and changed our young nation. Shipboard life was a unique and isolated world and as such formed its own community which emerged from the larger society it was a part of. As such, the ten frameworks identified by the National Council for the Social Studies are all easily identifiable and can be studied through the lens of Constitution in 1812. While individual state standards will dictate the content taught in classrooms, these themes serve as a useful way to organize the study of the War of 1812 and USS Constitution. Each theme here, quoted from the National Curriculum Standards for Social Studies and published by the National Council for the Social Studies, is discussed in the context of this curriculum with specific examples to explore for use in the classroom.

  • 1. Culture Through the study of culture and cultural diversity, learners understand how human beings create, learn, share, and adapt to culture, and appreciate the role of culture in shaping their lives and society, as well [as] the lives and societies of others.
  • USS Constitution was a unique culture all to its own. The men who served aboard ship came from rural and urban areas, wealthy and poor situations, and racially diverse backgrounds. 7-15% of the crew was made up of African American sailors who received equal pay for equal work (a situation which was not the case on shore). The 480 men trapped in tight quarters had to work together in order to accomplish their duty. This does not mean that racism, classism, or conflicts were absent and clashes between differently minded individuals did occur. Regardless of their differences, they were all aboard a ship and relied heavily on each other for the safety of the whole crew, both during and outside of battles. A Sailor’s Life for Me is a full exploration of shipboard culture in 1812 and visiting any of the Annotated Scenes will provide insight into that culture.
  • 2. Time, Continuity, and Change Through the study of the past and its legacy, learners examine the institutions, values, and beliefs of people in the past, acquire skills in historical inquiry and interpretation, and gain an understanding of how important historical events and developments have shaped the modern world.
  • A study of the War of 1812 enables students to understand the roots of our modern nation. It was this time period and struggle that propelled us from a struggling young collection of states to a unified player on the world stage. Out of the conflict the nation gained a number of symbols including USS Constitution. The victories she brought home lifted the morale of the entire nation and endure in our nation’s memory today. The resources of A Sailor’s Life for Me allow your students to investigate history for themselves through the study of primary sources, objects, and artwork that collectively tell the story of how the crew of Constitution came together to accomplish such important events in our nation’s history.
  • 3. People, Places, and Environments This theme helps learners to develop their spatial views and perspectives of the world, to understand where people, places, and resources are located and why they are there, and to explore the relationship between human beings and the environment.
  • The relationship between USS Constitution and the environment was a visceral one that affected everything that the crew did during their daily routines. With the ship’s navigation and safety so integrally connected to the weather, ocean, and winds, there is no doubt that the men did all within their power to both harness and defend themselves against their environment. To explore ways in which the two were so deeply connected, visit the annotated scenes of “Sail Drill” and “Sailors Aloft.”
  • 4. Individual Development and Identity Personal identity is shaped by family, peers, culture, and institutional influences. Through this theme, students examine the factors that influence an individual’s personal identity, development, and actions.
  • The diverse individuals that made up the crew of Constitution were largely forgotten to history until the USS Constitution Museum began a decade-long research project to identify and learn about these men. A Sailor’s Life for Me brings these men to life through the illustrations and text on each of the pages. Through the “Meet Your Shipmates” page, your students can glimpse into journals that illustrate the research and shed light on each man’s motivations, experiences, and actions before, during, and after the War of 1812. Despite the two-hundred years that separate today’s students from these sailors, they may find themselves in the stories of the crew of USS Constitution. Explore “Meet Your Shipmates” and use the search feature to find both primary source journals (ie Pardon Mawney Whipple) and compiled research journals.
  • 5. Individuals, Groups, and Institutions Institutions such as families and civic, educational, governmental, and religious organizations, exert a major influence on people’s lives. This theme allows students to understand how institutions are formed, maintained, and changed, and to examine their influence.
  • As a microcosm of larger society in 1812, Constitution’s crew worked under the influences of a number of individuals, groups, and institutions. Personal relationships between the men dictated their behaviors and they lived in such tight quarters that they came to see each other as family members with all the benefits and challenges inherent in that relationship. The hierarchical structure of a navy vessel also directed the ways in which the crew functioned. The US Navy in Washington, DC gave down orders to the Captain who in turn directed his officers to direct the crew. The major political and governmental policies therefore had great and direct impact on these men’s lives. To explore this theme in the classroom, visit scenes such as “Sailor’s Eating,” “Wardroom,” and “Burial at Sea.”
  • 6. Power, Authority, and Governance One essential component of education for citizenship is an understanding of the historical development and contemporary forms of power, authority, and governance. Through this theme, learners become familiar with the purposed and functions of government, the scope and limits of authority, and the differences between democratic and non-democratic political systems.
  • A naval ship in 1812 was not a democracy but rather a strictly regulated hierarchical system of governance that started with the captain and went down the ranks. Your life onboard was dictated by your superiors and the ringing of the ship’s bell which indicated which watch you were on and therefore where you were supposed to be. There was very little free time as an enlisted member of the crew and the higher up the ranks you went, the more of life’s little luxuries you were afforded. Students can learn more about the realities of life for different members of the crew by exploring the “Captain’s Cabin,” “Wardroom,” “Sailor’s Eating,” “Leisure Time,” “Quarterdeck,” and “Flogging” scenes. For a quick exploration of the hierarchy of the Ship, explore the “Meet Your Shipmates.”
  • 7. Production, Distribution, and Consumption This theme provides for the study of how people organize for the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services, and prepares students for the study of domestic and global economic issues.
  • Constitution was an isolated community afloat and therefore needed to provide for the purchasing, storage, and consumption of food and other goods for over four hundred men at sea for months at a time. Such an enterprise required a number of individuals including the Naval purchasing agent responsible for attaining adequate food and goods at reasonable prices, the Purser whose job was to maintain the Ship’s store and keep track of purchases the men made, and the Cook and mess cooks who prepared and distributed the meals to the crew. Students can visit the “Hold,” “Dinnertime,” and “Sailor’s Eating” to follow the route that food would have taken from storage to belly. A number of activities help them understand the scaling that was required to feed so many men.
  • 8. Science Technology, and Society By exploring the relationships among science, technology, and society, students develop an understanding of past and present advances in science and technology and their impact.
  • The USS Constitution was one of the most technologically advanced vessels of her day. Built with the finest materials available and with innovative engineering, her design was partially responsible for her three victories in the War of 1812. The crew held a set of technological skills that most of us would be totally unfamiliar with today. Each crewmember had some responsibility towards the maintenance and workings of the complex machine that Constitution was. Beyond the design of the Ship, the crew of Constitution was often working with concepts that can be useful in scientific studies in today’s classroom. Through the lens of Constitution you can study the scientific concepts inherent in the firing of cannons, navigation, medical treatments and their histories. For more, visit the annotated scenes of “The Hold,” “The Magazine in Battle,” “Cockpit After Battle,” “Sickbay,” “Gun Deck in Battle,” “Exercising the Guns,” “The Wheel,” and “Sail Drill.” These scenes include science activities to incorporate in your curriculum.
  • 9. Global Connections The realities of global interdependence require an understanding of the increasingly important and diverse global connections among world societies. This theme prepares students to study issues arising from globalization.
  • Even in 1812, the world was becoming an increasingly global society. Trade between the continents seemed faster than ever and nations relied on each other for goods and services both necessary and luxury. The War of 1812 was fought over “free trade and sailor’s rights,” the rallying cry to war. In this case a war between France and Great Britain had a direct effect on the realities of the situations that led America into war with the British. Had it not been for Napoleon threatening the Royal Navy, they may not have impressed American sailors as they had, nor would they have ignored the increasingly tense foreign relationship between the two countries. To learn more about the War of 1812 and its causes, visit Major Events.
  • 10. Civic Ideals and Practices An understanding of civic ideals and practices is critical to full participation in society and is an essential component of education for citizenship. This theme enables students to learn about the rights and responsibilities of citizens of a democracy, and to appreciate the importance of active citizenship.
  • The ramp up to the War of 1812 was a complicated and contested debate. Differences of opinion, motivation, and economic interests all played a role in the decision to go to war. No study of the War of 1812 is complete without some consideration of the causes and the thorny debate that played out in Congress during the summer of 1812.